If Geralt is defined by anything — other than white hair, gravelly one-liners, and a penchant for killing monsters and taking baths — it’s being a lone wolf. From the beginning of the series, he has traveled from town to town doing jobs and acquiring true connections with others only when bound together by a djinn, when mandated by the Law of Surprise, or when the other person involved is a bard who’s so cheerfully self-absorbed Geralt’s grumpiness bounces right off of him.
So Geralt’s return to Kaer Morhen in, uh, “Kaer Morhen” represents a seismic shift for The Witcher on two levels. Not only is Geralt headed back to the only real home he’s ever known — complete with a surrogate father and about a dozen rowdy brothers — he’s showing up with Ciri, his surrogate daughter, in tow.
This unconventional family reunion includes one fellow Witcher, Eskel, who shows up with a nasty-looking scar and a valuable trophy: The arm of a leshy, a powerful forest monster. Eskel has decided to celebrate his victory by bringing a bunch of booze and women up to Kaer Morhen, resulting in a party that’s a little closer to spring break than a warm family dinner.
None of this delights Geralt, who reacts to Eskel’s big orgiastic rager like … well, like any dad would if he bought his daughter home and found his family having a big orgiastic rager. For better or worse, Geralt and Ciri have no one but each other, and Geralt’s home base isn’t looking so safe.
Of course, it’s not exactly true that Geralt has no one but Ciri — he just doesn’t know Yennefer is still alive and captive to a band of elves who captured her and Fringilla at the end of the previous episode. The group of captors includes Filavandrel, the “king of the elves” you might remember from all the way back in season one. More important, it includes Francesca, a more aggressive elf leader who dreams of restoring her people to their former place of power.
To that end, Francesca has been having strange apparent dreams in which a figure robed in white guides her through a maze of corpses. She interprets the figure as Ithlinne, a famed elven prophet, and implicitly puts herself in a sequence of great elven leaders.
Unfortunately for Francesca’s grand vision, she’s not alone in these dreams. Fringilla has had similar dreams of a figure robed in black, whom she interprets as the Nilfgaardian emperor Emhyr var Emreis. And Yennefer has had dreams she decides not to fully disclose: a vision of what seems to be an impossible future in which she and Geralt have a baby together, interrupted by a figure robed in red.
The presence of three different robed figures — and the three skulls subsequently discovered in an old temple by the elves — are an early hint about what’s really happening here. Call them fates or furies or kindly ones: Since at least the days of Shakespeare, witching women have tended to arrive in threes.
When Yennefer, Fringilla, and Francesca descend under the temple and meet the “deathless mother,” they end up stuck in surreal, independent visions that are alternately seductive and terrifying. “Ithlinne” tells Francesca about a world that will die in frost and then be reborn. “Emhyr” entertains Fringilla’s dream of a newly empowered Nilfgaard. And Yennefer endures cruel reminders from her childhood of when her attempt to give flowers to a pair of young lovers was greeted with taunts and violence.
In fairy tales like these, it is generally not a wise idea to bargain with a witch, so it’s probably not a great omen that Fringilla and Francesca emerge reinvigorated, imagining an alliance in which Nilfgaard and the elves band together to wipe out everybody else. Yennefer, for her part, discovers she’s lost the ability to do magic altogether — an unimaginable loss for a woman who gave up literally everything she had to attain it.
Back at Kaer Morhen, the witchers are quickly forced to make their own painful, decisive choices. As it turns out, Eskel didn’t quite kill that leshy after all. The monster embedded its roots in his shoulder, and the rot quickly spread, turning Eskel into a tree creature. With no other options, Geralt and his mentor, Vesemir, team up and take Eskel down.
But before the unexpected drama of killing your rapidly mutating brother in a basement, Geralt and Vesemir have a more sober-minded conversation about the plights of fatherhood. Vesemir raised an entire generation of “mutated orphans” into witchers — and while the events of this episode show he didn’t teach them everything, he did ensure they were capable enough to fight for themselves. It’s been two episodes, and Ciri has been in mortal danger from two terrifying monsters. With the Nilfgaardian offensive heating up again, it doesn’t seem like things will get less dangerous.
So as the episode ends, Geralt hands Ciri a sword, and her training begins. “You can’t run from the world. You can’t hide from it. But you can find power and purpose. A chance to survive the horror,” he coaches her. And they’re doing it together. If this isn’t the home Geralt once had or a replacement for the home Ciri watched burn to the ground, maybe they can build a new one.
• Eskel’s death will be even more surprising to fans of the Witcher books and video games since he plays a fairly major role in several events that haven’t happened yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the series adjusts the narrative to compensate for his absence.
• Vesemir briefly tells Ciri about his mentor, Deglan, whom you can meet if you’re so inclined in The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.
• The witcher and her (allegedly chicken-legged) hut are a direct nod to the Baba Yaga, a particularly memorable figure in Slavic folklore.
• In addition to serving as the inspiration for the immortal “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” Jaskier apparently found time to write a ballad about Filavandrel, which seems to annoy the elf about as much as Geralt’s anthem annoys him.
• Though he’s long been a star in his native Denmark, Kim Bodnia, who plays Vesemir, is probably best known to international audiences as Villanelle’s handler on Killing Eve.
• Trend piece alert: Between this and Cowboy Bebop, Netflix has debuted two genre shows with subplots about people getting turned into trees within the span of one month.
• White Gull, the booze that gets everybody so twisted at Kaer Morhen, is a hallucinogenic liquor frequently enjoyed by witchers. Sounds delicious.